Just as the serious-minded traveler to a foreign land sacrifices certainty and ease of understanding to derive fresh insight, viewers of Ellen Zweig's video works must jettison their expectation of narrative in order to embrace Zweig's fragmentation its disorientation and truthfulness. Her interwoven snippets of interview, performance, and language are decontextualized in a way that is apropos of her thematic consideration of how Westerners construct, imagine, and experience China and Chinese-ness from a distance. Her HEAP series is akin to being parachuted into profundity your peripheral vision has to adapt hastily.
Language is essential to Zweig's form and content. It is both an alienating force and a means of bonding. In (The Chinese Room) John Searle, after absorbing calligraphy and vacilutf8g between being "embarrassed" and "ecstatic" while in China, she concedes, "I cannot speak Chinese." The repeating, graphic Chinese text of (Unsolved) Robert van Gulik feigns a connection with the English that is being spoken, but actually tells its own story. On the other hand, language is shared amicably between the artist and Chinese strangers in (Flick Flight Flimsy) Ernest Fenollosa.
Zweig is a fascinating guide because she is a semi-insider; she navigates the much-mythologized land of her heritage with a privilege and a passion the non-Chinese necessarily lack, but she must arrive at knowledge through translation and inquiry. Language and privilege are cleverly wielded when, in A Surplus of Landscape, she interrogates fellow filmmaker Leslie Thornton about choosing to shoot a film about China, with no prior experience of the land, in a Japanese garden. Zweig's videos juxtapose Western Sinophile "experts" with Chinese common folk and customs in a manner that continually questions cultural (mis)understanding.
ELLEN ZWEIG'S CHINA TAPES
Sun/9, 7:30 p.m., $6$8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, screening room, SF
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